Anyone for tennis? No? Then let's just huddle closer to the fire

Mon, Jan 21, 2013, 00:00

TIPPING POINT:If winter really is nature’s way of saying ‘Up Yours!’ then consider me upped.

Wilde said talking about the weather is the last resort of the truly unimaginative. But look where he wound up, in Paris without un pot to pipi in. And he never had to endure two weeks of the Australian Open either.

We’re halfway through now. It’s getting serious. All the big guns survive, ready to sweat like bullocks in pursuit of the first Grand Slam titles of 2013. And boy, are they sweating. All except Federer of course, who merely perspires tastefully.

The rest of them however are producing rivers in 40-something-degree heat that shimmers in the far away distance with all the allure of Sharapova towelling herself down after a particularly strenuous tie-breaker.

The wondrous Maria is only one of the tanned totems of toned athleticism that can be viewed between power cuts in Ireland as we also peer out at the rain and snow hammering down on our benighted isle.

Is it any wonder there isn’t an Irish tennis player contending in Melbourne? How could any decent player emerge from here? Tennis is a warm game. It needs to be played under sun, not in a part of the world where anyone over 6ft has to stoop to avoid hitting cloud.

And don’t mention Andy Murray. He might be as Scottish as a fried Mars bar, but once he displayed the first signs of burgeoning talent it was off to sunny Spain with him.

Any sport that doesn’t need a roof

You can play tennis in Spain, and football, and practically any sport that doesn’t require a roof. The best football in the world is played in Spain, club and international, and the Spanish have more top tennis players than solvent banks.

It’s interesting to watch some of the highlights from the swimming pool at the London Olympics too, featuring plenty of Americans and Australians reared on water that invites youngsters to jump into it.

Bathing in Bondi breeds dreams of spending the best years of your life in water. Bathing in Brittas gives you five minutes before starting to turn blue.

It must be a Darwinian thing, evolution and the environment. And what an environment we have: wet and cold, but not enough to be of any use. The only Alpine sport option is down some piece of plastic in Kilternan and as for water, well, it’s only gnarly pot-head wannabes who think plunging into the ocean here is an enjoyable pursuit.

No, what our wet and cold is good for is producing muck, which is suitable for rugby, National Hunt racing, a bit of cross-country running and bog-snorkelling. And if that sounds an unlovely combination, and unduly downbeat, put it down to seasonal affective disorder and our other vital meteorological ingredient: unpredictability. That interesting twist that sees the Irish Derby at the height of summer regularly tango with the possibility of being waterlogged off.

It would be nice to think there might be a sporting upside to wet, cold and unpredictable. Maybe a need for web-footed, musty athletes with a taste for the unexpected has been overlooked up to now, but damned if I can see anything, apart from whaling, and that ain’t featuring on the Olympic programme anytime soon.

So there doesn’t look to be much for it except to huddle closer to the fire and watch through the screen how those with up to par Vitamin D quotients manage to cope with an Australian summer that has reached record levels in terms of heat.

But not even straightforward second-hand sun worship comes without a cloud of doping suspicion.

Doping in tennis

Christophe Rochus, a Belgian player who once hit No 38 in the world rankings has said doping in tennis is widespread and opined that “it’s inconceivable to play for five hours in the sun and come back like a rabbit the next day”. He has even suggested the authorities jack in the pretence and simply legalise performance-enhancing drugs.

The latter point is so offside as to be hardly worth comment. More credible though is Rochus’s statement that he would “simply like to stop the pretending. This hypocrisy is exasperating.”

The official line will be that Rochus is looking for attention, or is disgruntled and is disgraceful for not coming up with names or evidence – all the stuff that gets trotted out for years before the inevitable Oprah weep. But don’t pretend that some on-court performances over the years, particularly in Melbourne it has to be said, have stretched credulity to its thinnest.

In that light, Murray’s physical aches and pains – much criticised over the years as evidence of mental frailty – look reassuringly human. In his third round match on Saturday, he spent much of his time rubbing a shoulder that was giving him gyp, while at the same inviting an intrusively dipping and diving overhead camera to have a go if it thought it was hard enough.

Murray seems doomed to perpetual adolescence in terms of the physical face he presents. But there is a commendable disdain for such appearances lurking inside that Calvinist soul. So much so you suspect he might be happiest of all back in Stirling in the snow. But Murray is a tennis player. So when he isn’t in Spain, he’s in Florida. See the link? It’s called sun.

I’m just going outside now, and may be some time.

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